Writing 101: Who's Whose?

Who is a deceptively simple word. It sits there with its three letters, taunting and teasing you. But give in to its siren song of sweetness, and you're going to make all sorts of grammatical errors. There are so many different versions of the word who, you practically need a degree just to keep them sorted. One of the easiest errors to make in writing is mixing up who's and whose. I'm probably going to do it in this post, it's so easy. But together, maybe we can get it straightened out. 

Whose Word is it, Anyway?

Whose is the possessive form of who. This is confusing, because usually who's would show possession. If I grab ahold of Joseph and grip around his bicep, I'm holding Joseph's arm. The apostrophe and the s show the possession. 

That's not how it works with who. The word is irregular, so it becomes whose instead. It's also confusing because either word can properly start a sentence. Let's look at some examples:

Who's that sitting in our driveway?

Whose pork chop was left in the sink? 

In the first example, I'm asking asking about "who is." I don't know the name of the person in the driveway, so I'm asking "who is that." With who, the apostrophe s is a contraction. The apostrophe is there to represent the i in is

In the second example, I'm asking who left that pork chop in the sink. Who owned this pork chop? Whose was it? I don't know the name of the person with the pork chop, so I'm using who, and I'm asking about something that belongs to who. The word becomes possessive, and it becomes whose. Who's can mean who is or who has, but it can't show possession. It's always a contraction. 

And sometimes, maybe you're supposed to use whom, which is something else altogether. Whom is yet another form of who, and it basically boils down to this: whom is used when the subject is an object, who is used when it's a person.

Don't which know goes where? Just add your is. If you see who's, change it to who is and read it that way to yourself. If it sounds utterly wrong, you probably need to use the word whose instead. 

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  1. Thank you, Jade! I truly think this will assist anyone who still has trouble with this! It's truly lovely to see that someone can boil this down to such a simple explanation. Everyone else I've seen/heard either makes it MORE confusing, or they hold the reader's confusion where it originally was.

  2. I'm glad you liked the post. Thanks for commenting!